At a time when the U.S. political environment is so toxic that duly elected members of Congress feel free to yell "Baby-killer!'' at a colleague and "You lie!'' at the president during a State of the Union address, it was eye-opening to watch the British Parliament on C-SPAN last night. (It was also a reminder of the value of C-SPAN itself).
Alistair Darling (the name alone is enough to make an Anglophile weep with joy), the chancellor of the exchequer, stood in the House of Commons and presented the budget proposal for the next fiscal year by Gordon Brown's Labor government, with Brown seated behind him. It met with noisy and colorful opposition from the rival Conservative Party, whose leader David Cameron rose to declare that "Labor have made a mess of the economy.'' There was plenty of hoo-ing and hah-ing from both sides during the remarks by Darling and Cameron.
Things got pretty intense. Yet what struck this American observer was how the speakers for the most part strove for wit rather than stooping to venom. It was fun to watch them slug it out verbally without commentators rushing in to tell us what it all meant.
That is the enduring value of C-SPAN on the TV landscape. So much of television is dominated by fraudulent "reality'' shows, but C-SPAN is the genuine article. Week in, week out, at the White House, on Capitol Hill, a political symposium, wherever, this plain-vanilla network just turns on the cameras, gets out of the way, and lets events unfold. No spinmeisters. No amping up the voltage. No partisan hacks contributing their dubious two cents. Just unmediated, no-quotation-marks-needed reality.
There will always be an England. And if we're lucky, there will always be a C-SPAN.